According to the Royal Incorporation of Architects of Scotland ‘The Place of Kilbirnie was in the forefront of mid-17th century design’ yet today it is little known or regarded.
Situated near Kilbirnie in rural Ayrshire, Place consists of a 15th century tower house extended in 1627 by an impressive wing in the Renaissance style. Burned down in 1757 it became derelict and now is in a critical condition.
The tower is the best preserved portion of Place. It has eight-foot thick walls; vaulted at ground and roof levels and rises through four storeys to finish in a corbelled wall walk. One gable wall has tumbled but the tower, due to its massive construction, appears to be in no immediate danger.
A pit prison and a fine fireplace with carved details can be observed but the entrance to the tower is so buried in rubble that only the rebated arch of its door is visible.
Due to its thinner walling, what remains of the 17th century addition is in a dangerous state and as late as 1964 a large part of it fell. It abuts the tower, whose walling was broken through at this point to allow access, at one corner. Handsome multi-corbelled turrets adorned either end and rose high through three storeys but are now sadly reduced to their lower levels. Entrance was via a boldly projecting porch ¬– an unusual feature. A hall was created at first floor level with an adjacent withdrawing room.
Remains of a grand tree-lined avenue and traces of walled gardens and orchards support the view that, in its time, Place was the most desirable property in this part of Ayrshire.
On May 1, 1757 a servant was going to the stables when he noted smoke rising from the roof and raised the alarm. It would seem that the lady of the house had thrown melted candle wax onto a fire setting the chimney ablaze which in turn engulfed the entire mansion. All attempts at fire fighting failed and the family were forced to abandon Place and move to a new home at Irvine.
The Scottish Castles Association is planning a visit to Place in 2016.
Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle.